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Possibly one of the best Comic Book series of the 1990s, Grant Morrison's The Invisibles is an electric mashup of James Bond movies, 1960s psychedelia, Cosmic Horror, Gnostic theory, The Prisoner, The Illuminatus Trilogy and the books of Philip K. Dick, with guest appearances by John Lennon, the Marquis de Sade, Lord Byron and Queen Elizabeth II. It's one of the best-regarded original titles from Vertigo Comics.
It begins with young Dane MacGowan - a Liverpudlian tearaway with growing psychic power - who becomes a target for two sides of an ancient war: The Invisible College, fighting for chaos and limitless freedom, and The Outer Church, which wants to grind down all individuality and turn humans into mindless drones.
He soon joins up with an Invisible cell comprising psychic assassin King Mob, transvestite shaman Lord Fanny, martial arts expert Boy and mysterious redhead Ragged Robin. Together they strike at The Outer Church and its Earthly representatives, trying to free the world of its sick grip. But neither side knows the true secret of the universe, or what is really coming at the end of time in December 2012...
The comic has been equally lauded and criticised for its complicated, nigh-on-labyrinthine structure, which jumps backward and forward in time and - particularly at the end of the third volume - requires the reader to put in some effort to unravel what exactly is going on. It's also let down by art of varying quality, particularly in the 10th and 11th issues of the third volume which had a different artist every couple of pages. However, it remains Morrison's best-received non-superhero work and one of the high watermarks of 90s comic books. Many of its themes would be continued in Morrison's The Filth.
Not EVER to be confused with Arthur and the Invisibles.
Generally regarded as being one of the primary inspirations for The Matrix, alongside Ghost in the Shell. Morrison even said he felt he was plagiarised, but that it just meant the comic was working as intended.
This comic book provides examples of these tropes:
- After the End -- Some of the parallel universes the characters cross through are post-apocalyptic and quite unpleasant.
- Anachronic Order
- Another Dimension -- Our universe is a hologram created by two other universes intersecting.
- Or a five-dimensional structure in a growing larval stage.
- Or something.
- Or a five-dimensional structure in a growing larval stage.
- Aristocrats Are Evil -- Lord Miles; also Queen Elizabeth II is shown to be involved with The Outer Church in "The Invisible Kingdom".
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence -- What happens to mankind in 2012, as far as this troper understood the ending.
- Author Avatar -- This is a weird one. For whatever reason, King Mob greatly resembles Grant Morrison: both are tall, skinny bald British guys. In the letters column of the final issue of volume 1, Morrison relates the story of how, at the same time he stuck King Mob in a torture chamber with a gunshot wound to the stomach for about six issues, Morrison collapsed and nearly died because of a deflated lung. Morrison found this significant.
- Bomb Throwing Anarchist: Jack Frost starts as one. The rest of the series deconstructs this trope.
- Body Horror -- Miss Dwyer's body modifications in "Entropy in the U.K."; what happens to Bambi in "Bloody Hell in America".
- Brainwashed and Crazy -- Jolly Roger in "Bloody Hell in America", Boy in "American Death Camp"
- Captain Ersatz -- Mason Lang is the Invisibles' Bruce Wayne.
- Chekhov's Gun -- The "World's Best Dad" mug.
- Code Name -- Each of The Invisibles has a code name that effectively becomes their 'second self'.
- The Con -- In "Black Science 2".
- Cool Old Lady -- Edith Manning
- Corrupt Corporate Executive -- In "Season of Ghouls".
- The Corruption -- Serving the Archons changes people both physically and psychologically.
- Cosmic Horror
- Covers Always Lie -- The covers for the issues in the third volume were intentionally surreal and subtly hinted at the story without being explicit.
- Crazy Prepared -- King Mob has booby-trapped his own car just in case someone steals it.
- Creator Breakdown -- Morrison put his emotional and physical problems into the series as he wrote it - and believes that some of the injuries he inflicted on his Marty Stu magically affected him too.
- Cultural Rebel -- Dane (a white English teenage guy) is a big fan of gangsta rap, and he asks Boy (a young African-American woman) whether she likes it. She says it's okay, but she prefers European techno. Later, we find out that her brother was an actual gangsta rapper.
- Diner Brawl -- A local cowboy doesn't like the fact that Lord Fanny is a transexual and tries to pick a fight. Doesn't go well when the heroes take down entire military bases on their off days.
- Eccentric Mentor -- Tom O'Bedlam to Dane.
- Eldritch Abomination -- The Outer Church's sinister Archons.
- Expy -- According to Word of God, Ragged Robin is an expy of Crazy Jane from Doom Patrol, the series Morrison used to write before The Invisibles.
- Fad Super -- King Mob reinvented himself several times throughout the series to remain fashionable.
- Fallen Hero -- John-a-Dreams--once close to King Mob--is later observed scheming with Lord Miles, underscoring (as the series winds down) the increasing Not So Different emphasis.
- False Crucible -- In "Down and Out in Heaven and Hell".
- Fantastic Drug -- The "blue mold" in an abandoned Underground station, and Ragged Robin's use of "Sky" to bootstrap her jump from fiction to reality (or is it the other way around?)
- Five-Man Band -- Subverted like hell. The Invisible army is composed (sometimes) of five man cells, who ritualistically swap both their roles in the group and personalities.
- It's not hard to fit the main Invisibles cell into this matrix, though:
- In Volume 2 the cell does indeed ritualistically swap their roles, but on the plot level the only noticeable change is that Ragged Robin becomes The Hero and King Mob The Lancer. In Volume 3 the original team has disbanded while new protagonists take the stage, so the matrix doesn't fit anymore.
- Gainax Ending
- Grey and Gray Morality -- One of the big points of the series. It manages to find it behind an almost Anviliciously black-and-white conflict.
- How We Got Here -- In "How I Became Invisible", "And Half a Dozen of the Other" and "The Invisible Kingdom".
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game -- In "Royal Monsters".
- Journey to the Center of the Mind -- In "Entropy in the U.K.".
- Lennon Specs -- King Mob
- Logic Bomb -- The series itself is allegedly designed to have this effect on the reader.
- Mind Screw -- Pretty much the whole thing. It is Grant Morrison, after all.
- Nested Story Reveal -- There are at leasts three instances in the plot that could be interpreted as this (the future Dane's story to his dying friend, the future Robin's self-insert fan fiction, the video game developed by the future King Mob), but given the deconstructionist nature of The Invisibles, none of them are conclusive.
- A major theme of the work is that everything is true. Dane did tell his dying friend the story, Robin did write the story, King Mob did develop a virtual reality game, which Dane played and escaped. The universe of "The Invisibles" exists as a completed totality. "Paradox" is irrelevant.
- Order Versus Chaos
- Psychic Nosebleed
- Raised as the Opposite Gender -- Lord Fanny.
- Heroes Want Redheads -- Ragged Robin is the love interest for King Mob (and later... or earlier, depending on how you look at the chronology, Mason Lang).
- Recursive Reality -- The cast travels to worlds inside, outside, up, down and sideways to the real world. Whatever that is...
- Secret Identity -- Gideon Starozewski wrote books under the name Kirk Morrison about his alter-ego Gideon Stargrave... and eventually became King Mob.
- Secret Identity Identity -- In "Entropy in the U.K.", King Mob uses all of the above identities to fox Lord Miles's attempts at psychic interrogation. In "American Death Camp", Boy discovers that she may not be who she thinks she is.
- Technical Pacifist: King Mob gives up guns in volume three because of the damage killing has done to his karma.
- Time Travel -- Ragged Robin comes from the year 2012. Also, the team uses psychic time travel regularly, for example to retrieve the Marquis de Sade.
- Trapped in TV Land - In "Arcadia", the team find themselves stuck in the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days Of Sodom.
- Truly an example of the trope, except for the "TV" part: it's a story which barely evaded the censors to find an audience in well-enforced 18-and-over cinemas.
- Weirdness Censor -- In "Counting To None".
- Where Everybody Knows Your Flame -- The bar where Fanny takes his night off and is captured by Brodie.
- Whole-Episode Flashback -- "Best Man Fall" tells the life story of one of the guards killed by King Mob in issue one; also "How I Became Invisible", "She-Man", "The Invisible Kingdom".
- Wholesome Crossdresser -- Lord Fanny. Admittedly, he's still quite amorous.
- Why Couldn't You Be Different? -- Lord Fanny is raised as a girl because his
culturegrandmother does not allow men to become shamans.
- Wild Card -- The blind chess player (who may or may not be Satan) appears to be working with both the Invisibles and the Archons. Note that whenever we see him by his chessboard, he's not sitting on either the white or the black side, but in the middle, literally "playing both sides". Later on we find out that the idea of there being two sides is a false dichotomy anyway, and one needs to transcend it to move on to the Supercontext. Or something like that.